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The question we should be asking is…is your olive oil real?
I'm asked about olive oil a lot. Probably because, when it comes down to it, most of what we've been told about the food we eat has been a big fat lie (heck, I even wrote a book about that) – so it makes sense that we'd be suspicious of olive oil.
After all, olive oil has been a mainstream favorite for many years – it's heralded for its health benefits and it's on the shelf at pretty much every store, from the health food market to the standard grocery store.
Whenever something is that ubiquitous, I start to wonder.
But the truth is more complicated than a simple “healthy” or “not healthy.”
Up for the explanation? Read on. If not, what you really need to know is:
- Olive oil IS healthy, but it HAS to be the real thing – and it's got to be used properly.
- This means store it right and use it smartly (dark glass, careful cooking)
- The studies of olive oil and its components are strong, and indicate olive oil and its components have some solid health benefits.
In other words, there's no real reason not to use it if you love it and do it right.
There are some excellent, reputable brands out there (sadly, most aren't at the grocery store – not even the health food store), but since I like to sample as may great brands as I can, I personally adore being a member of the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club.
(They offer my readers their first bottle for $1!)
More on olive oil, why it's healthy, and when it's not…
For the rest of this post, I'll call it EVOO for extra virgin olive oil – because when we talk about this stuff, that's what we're really discussing. EVOO is the top-tier olive oil product and the one I recommend everyone focus on.
I was once one of the people who dismissed EVOO as a non-Paleo, anti-Primal, and simply useless compared to natural, more saturated fats from butter, ghee, coconut oil, lard, and tallow. But over the years, I changed my mind.
The research is compelling, the long history of EVOO's use in the human diet is fascinating, and the TASTE of good-quality EVOO just can't be beat.
GOOD EVOO is minimally processed, it's a good source of the tough-to-find vitamin E, and common subs like avocado oil can't touch EVOO's level of evidence, history or culinary use.
(In fact, other oils aren't generally substituted for EVOO for health reasons. It's much more likely that they're substituted for cost considerations.)
Not that there's anything terribly wrong with a few of the healthier EVOO alternatives. But from a health perspective, they really can't touch EVOO.
Why? Because EVOO contains compounds, including phenols and vitamin E, that have been studied for their possible direct positive effects on health markers, and the studies are actually quite solid. The other oils – especially so-called healthy “vegetable oils” – just can't say the same.
The studies we have about EVOO are generally strong and well-constructed. EVOO and olive oil constituents are associated with improved neurological, cardiovascular and metabolic function in certain groups, and even in circumstances where we know correlation just doesn't necessarily equate to causation, we still have strong evidence that it's a solid part of an overall conscientious dietary approach.
So, the scientific literature suggests that there IS something special about olive oil's constituents and EVOO. Its long history in multiple healthy cultures' diets helps confirm this. It's the perfect intersection of science, history, and common sense. I like that.
So what's complicating things?
Contamination. Adulteration. Damage. Food Fraud.
Remember when I mentioned how popular and ubiquitous EVOO is?
Any time something becomes popular, it also runs the risk of being adulterated or poorly handled for profit.
The 60 minutes segment on the “Agromafia” really made this clear. In summary: the Italian mafia is behind some serious EVOO fraud.
Tom Mueller, journalist and author of the book Extra Virginity, says that as much as 80% of the EVOO in the United States doesn’t meet the legal standards for EVOO.
Moreover, the New York Times featured a controversial (to the oil import industry – whomp, whomp) infographic with the work of Nicholas Blechman – stating that much of the stuff passing as EVOO is not just mafia-ized, but actually adulterated: soybean oil with added flavor-disguising beta-carotene and color-enhancing chlorophyll is just one of the ways EVOO scammers work.
When you buy this kind of EVOO – and I am 99% sure I have in my lifetime – you're not just missing the health benefits of EVOO. You might even be consuming something that will negatively impact your health.
When a good fat becomes bad
I spent years researching dietary fat for my book Eat the Yolks, and I truly came to believe that the worst thing we can do dietarily is to eat the wrong fats and oils.
By “wrong,” I mean highly processed, oxidized, low-quality oils. Light, heat, air and time can damage fatty acids, and EVOO is no exception (think of the clear plastic bottles so much of the store-bought stuff sits in, rather than being protected from light in darker bottles).
I have known for a long time that vegetable oils, corn oil, soybean oil and cottonseed oil fit this profile. But when I learned that my EVOO might also fit the bill, my stomach dropped.
It’s more than a financial issue or even a flavor issue. It’s a health issue.
Storage & freshness matter
But even higher-quality, non-adulterated EVOO faces problems. The longer an olive oil sits in storage, the higher the chance for nutrients to degrade. Polyphenols in EVOO decline by 40% by 6 months after harvest, and a bottle can easily sit in transit, in customs, and in store shelves for that long.
Some olive oil marketers purposely omit putting the harvest date on their labels because they don’t want you to know how old the oil is.
How I chose my EVOO source
When I tell folks that I think EVOO is perfectly healthy, the next question is always “which brand do you like?”
There are several amazing direct sources for EVOO out there. I like trying lots of different, fresh, properly produced EVOO from around the world, so I started working with the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club (they offer my readers their first bottle for $1).
The Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club has sponsored several emails to my community, but I added this blog post without sponsorship because I truly love working with them that much.
The Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club works directly with producers, which means they bring your EVOO literally from the harvest to your table. (But not before it's independently lab tested to certify it is 100% Extra Virgin.)
More benefits of the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club:
- They witness the production of their featured EVOOs from start to finish
- They send a “pressing report” so you can really get to know your EVOO – your producer, your olive variety, the region, and the harvest
- They send seasonal recipes catered directly to your specific trio of EVOO
Members get THREE different, unique EVOO bottles with every shipment, and each is selected for its different flavor profile – mild, medium, and bold.
Because I can’t sort through the sourcing of all the oils on grocery store shelves, but I love to try a variety, the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club is perfect for me.
I LOVE working with companies who are forward-thinking, engaged in the process, and who provide a quality product.
I LOVE working with companies who support the “little guys” who are doing it right.
Go here to get your first bottle for $1. After that, there’s no obligation to buy anything, now or ever. Just read the details of being a club member, make your selection, and enjoy. If you don’t want to receive any further EVOO, just let them know.
Note that there ARE a limited number of $1 bottles reserved for my community, so please don’t wait if you're interested.
No matter where you get your quality EVOO from, know that if you choose it right, you've got absolutely nothing to worry about. Extra virgin olive oil is a perfectly healthy addition to a solid diet.
Thanks for reading!
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